When a game’s released based on a recent movie, the majority of the time it’s a terrible conversion. Recent titles such as Shrek the Third and The Golden Compass failed to impress, but Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was a title which boosted faith in the licensed movie-to-game genre. In the latest attempt at trying to have a successful film-to-game conversion we have The Spiderwick Chronicles, originally based on the five books written by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.
The start of The Spiderwick Chronicles sees the Grace family (made up of the mother, daughter Mallory and twins Jared and Simon) move into their new home and Jared discovers a dumbwaiter system behind a wall in the house, which leads to the secret study of Arthur Spiderwick. In the study Jared discovers a book – The Spiderwick Chronicles – written by Arthur and containing information on the surrounding magical creatures and enchantments. Thimbletack, a brownie, warns Jared not to take the book outside of the magical protective Circle of Toadstools around the house as a shape-shifting ogre, Mulgarath, is after it. Thimbletack also gives Jared a seeing stone which allows him to see the magical creatures that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Now having the book, Jared’s brother Simon is kidnapped by Mulgarath’s goblins having mistaken Simon for Jared and it’s up to the three children to work together in order to defeat Mulgarath and prevent him from stealing The Spiderwick Chronicles.
Almost every task in The Spiderwick Chronicles involves players collecting items. Whether its fire salamanders, sprites, parts for weapons or bits for Thimbletack’s house, you always seem to be collecting. The game lacks an inventory system as when you find an item which you don’t require for your task, you have to come back to obtain the item once the task is available. This is frustrating and adds to the repetition. The most repetitive task of all is collecting sprites, once you catch them in your sprite net you have to complete a mini-game where you paint on the paper to uncover the sprite. The mini-game must be completed to capture the sprite in the time limit otherwise it escapes. This would be fine if it was done once or twice throughout the game but it has to be done about fifty times (and that’s no exaggeration). The single player feature that stands out for me is controlling Thimbletack. Running into the crack in the study wall to retrieve the seeing stone, the antique sword and Arthur Spiderwick’s griffin’s acorn is one of the more entertaining features of the generally quite dull game. It’s also made dull because of the constant referring to the Field Guide (which is accessed through the Start button). Without referring to the guide every so often, you’ll lose track of where to go and what to do. And when the guide doesn’t come to your help, you’ll end up wandering looking for a particular object or creature.
The unlockables throughout the game are multiplayer arenas for the multiplayer side of the game. The letters appear in the form of ISL (International Sprite League) at the front door of the house in single-player mode. This is a good way of getting players to finish the short story mode, but it’s also annoying as if you’re looking to try out the multiplayer as it takes approximately 2 hours to receive your first letter. When you eventually get onto the multiplayer, you’ll wish you hadn’t bothered as it is simply collecting sprites and/or killing goblins which you have done in the single-player side of the game. Quite strangely players can play the multiplayer by themselves and there is no online play, just local multiplayer. But don’t be put off by the multiplayer as there is three easy achievements to gain earning you 170 GamerScore.
The achievements in The Spiderwick Chronicles can be completed with ease and the full 1000 can be achieved within 7 hours as they simply require players to complete the game 100%; finding all the sprites, completing all the tasks and playing the multiplayer.
The graphics are average although I was particularly impressed with the house as it has been recreated from the movie very well, but the study, the woods and quarry have all been altered so much they feel totally different. The three main characters haven’t been designed too well, especially the faces, but Hogsqueal (the bird-loving hobgoblin) looks great. The majority of the cut-scenes use clips from the movie itself which I personally feel all licensed movie games should do and it’s a nice addition to the game. The voice-overs in the game are excellent but is spoiled by the lip-syncing of the characters, but all in all the audio is very effective and adds to the atmosphere well.
The controls are different to other games in the genre. At first it feels strange having the A button as attack, although after a while it becomes natural, but only because the fighting combat is button bashing A until you unlock more powerful attacks and this requires you to hold down the A button. The action button is B and when Y is pressed the active sprite power is used. I love the use of the Bumper buttons as you can change weapon and sprite power very quick.
Overall, The Spiderwick Chronicles is one of the better licensed movie games we’ve seen for a while but there is better games on the market. If you are planning on getting the game I recommend first seeing the movie before renting/purchasing the game as the story can be fairly complicated to understand from just the game. The story mode can easily be completed within 7 hours and you will also unlock you the majority of the achievements (with the rest coming from the multiplayer). You are very unlikely to come back to it after completion due to the lack of multiplayer and interest in the story.